Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thoughts on Tournament Field

Grading The Selection Committee


Like many of those who try to pick the field I missed some teams this year. I had Alabama, VT, and Colorado in and the committee selected Georgia, UAB and VCU. I don't have a problem with any of the exclusions (though I am very surprised by Colorado who I think looked like a tournament team and had the wins of a tournament team), but I do think the UAB inclusion was a bad one. UAB was 1-4 against the RPI top 50 (the one win over VCU) and 9-8 against the RPI top 100 (that is a decent amount of top 100 wins as far as that goes). Clearly, the committee chose to value UAB winning the Conference USA title (conference USA was 8th in the RPI this). To me UAB showed they could beat NIT caliber teams not NCAA caliber teams. I think there were better teams available.


The common trend among those who were excluded was bad non-conference strength of schedules. The committee has always emphasized the non-conference strength of schedule, but they really sent a message with it this year. Colorado, Bama and VT had non-conference strength of schedules of 331, 294, and 153. At the end of the day this is what got them left out. Alabama in fact had better wins than Georgia and beat Georgia twice, but because Georgia scheduled better they were a 10 seed while Bama was at home. Honestly I have no problem when the committee sends this message. They have been doing it for years. When you play a non-conference schedule that is as bad as these teams you better have an overwhelming overall resume or you will be left at home.


As far as overall seeding I did not have any big issues with any of the seeds. I thought Georgetown was too high, but they were rewarded for a great SOS and stellar RPI numbers, which is fine. I had Notre Dame as a 1 seed over Duke, but the Duke choice is fine (and in fact I think they are my favorite to win the whole thing). I had Uconn as the last two seed and SD State as the top 3, and it appears the committee went the other way around. Even the teams I was off on I am fine with the committee's placement. I had Missouri as a 9 seed, but the way they finished and their performance away from home this year an 11 is reasonable. I thought Penn State was too high as a 10 especially when you compare them to a team like Marquette, but the committee gets 1 seed line to play with so you never know if they had to move them or not. To me no teams that were excluded had an ironclad case to get in and only 1 team included had a poor case to get in (UAB).


Today is the start of my favorite 4 game stretch of the season. Here are the first round games I am most looking forward to.


Thursday 12pm on CBS, WVU v Clemson- I always look forward to watching Huggins teams play and this is a very dangerous 5/12 game. Clemson has a big disadvantage of having played in Dayton in the late game Tuesday and then having to fly to St Pete for the noon game Thursday, but Clemson is playing really good basketball and I think Brad Brownell is one hell of a coach. As much as Huggins has got out of this WVU team, they have to execute at a very high level to win games, because they just do not have individuals who can take over. I like WVU in this one but it could be close.


Thursday 1:30 pm on TBS, Louisville v Morehead State- Morehead State has one of the best players in the tournament in Kenneth Faried. I'm really excited to see him play against a team as good as Louisville and think he could give them trouble. I have Louisville going all the way to the elite eight, but I would not be shocked if Morehead State gave them all they could handle. Last year's OVC champion Murray State won a game in the tournament last season.


Thursday 7PM on CBS, BYU vs. Wofford- Wofford is an experienced team that played really well last year in the tournament. BYU has been great all year and has an absolutely stellar record against tournament teams, but they have been missing something since the Davies suspension. Of course I am stoked to watch Jimmer, but I think this game has the potential to be the biggest upset of the first round.


Thursday 7:15 on TruTv, Wisconsin vs. Belmont- I'm very excited to watch Belmont play. They are a deep squad that just destroyed the Atlantic Sun this year. Ken Pom's efficiency rankings really thought highly of this squad. When Wisconsin players their best they are a top 15 caliber team, but they can look very ugly at times. This is another game that has the potential to be an upset (and has been a very trendy upset pick).


Thursday 9:45 pm on TNT, Cincinnati v Missouri- Not much introduction needed here. Been waiting 6 years for this game.


Friday 12 pm on CBS, Texas v Oakland- Texas has at times looked like the best team in the country but really struggled down the stretch. If those struggles continue this Oakland team is capable of beating them.


Friday 7:15 pm on TruTv, Xavier v Marquette- I am very much interested in seeing how much in Xavier's “improvement” is actual improvement and how much is from playing in the Atlantic Ten. I think the 11th place team in the Big East has to be thrilled with the draw they got and could very well beat Xavier in this game.


Friday 9:45 pm on TNT, Georgetown v VCU- Many did not like the VCU selection, but they are a very dangerous team and I think were worthy given their wins over the course of the year. Georgetown really struggled down the stretch. The big question here is does Chris Wright come back and how effective is he? With a healthy, effective Chris Wright Georgetown is a very dangerous 6 seed. Without him they could be one and done.



Potential First Round Upsets (11 seed or higher winning)

12 Clemson over 5 WVU

11 Marquette over 6 Xavier

13 Oakland over 4 Texas

14 Wofford over 3 BYU

11 Gonzaga over 6 St Johns

13 Belmont over 4 Wisconsin

12 Utah State over 5 Kansas State

11 VCU over 6 Georgetown

12 Richmond over 5 Vanderbilt


Potential Sweet 16 sleepers (7 seeds and below)

11 Marquette

7 Washington

9 Tennessee

13 Oakland

10 Michigan State

11 Gonzaga

13 Belmont


My Elite Eight

Pitt

Florida

Notre Dame

Louisville

Cincinnati

Duke

Syracuse

Kentucky


My Final Four

Kentucky

Duke

Notre Dame

Pitt


Championship

Duke over Pitt


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Selection Sunday Final Bracket

I won't be able to do a bracket after the games are played today so there could be some changes but here is my final bracket.

One Seeds- Ohio State, Kansas, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

Two Seeds- North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Uconn

Three Seeds- San Diego State, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky

Four Seeds- Syracuse, BYU, Purdue, Wisconsin

Five Seeds- St Johns, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Arizona

Six Seeds- Kansas State, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Xavier

Seven Seeds- Temple, Washington, UCLA, UNLV

Eight Seeds- Georgetown, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Marquette

Nine Seeds- Michigan, Old Dominion, Missouri, Butler

Ten Seeds- Villanova, llinois, George Mason, Colorado

Eleven Seeds- Clemson, Michigan State, Richmond, Virginia Tech

Twelve Seeds- Florida State/Alabama, Memphis, Utah State, Penn State/USC

Thirteen Seeds- Princeton, Oakland, Belmont, Morehead State

Fourteen Seeds- Indiana State, Bucknell, Long Island U, Wofford

Fifteen Seeds- St Peters, Northern Colorado, Akron, UCSB

Sixteen Seeds- Boston U, UNC Ashville, Arkansas State/Hampton, UTSA/Ark Little Rock


Last 6 In

Richmond

Virginia Tech

Florida State

Penn State

USC

Alabama


First 6 Out

St Mary's

Georgia

Harvard

Boston College

UAB

VCU


Here is my selection Sunday bracket projection. The last team I have in the field is Alabama. This bracket will work if Richmond wins the A10 and Ohio State wins the Big Ten. If Dayton wins today I think they would go in as a 13 seed and would knock Alabama out of the tournament. If Penn State wins they will move up to probably a 10 or 11 seed. Automatic bids also do not play in the play in game. If that were the case then Virginia Tech would be in the play in game. If both Penn State and Dayton win those I have in the play in games would be Richmond, Virginia tech, Florida State and USC.


I think the team I am leaving out that is most likely to get chosen by the committee is St Mary's. To me their body of work was not enough. They hang much of their resume on a win over St Johns which occurred in November and one win over Gonzaga. To me the two teams they are competing with (Alabama and USC) have a much better collection of wins. USC is 5-5 against the RPI top 50 and has wins over UCLA, Arizona, Washington, and Texas. That is strong. Alabama ran away with the SEC west and has wins over Kentucky, bubble team Georgia twice (which I why they have to be above Georgia in the pecking order), and Tennessee. I really believe those 3 teams are competing for the last two spots. I went with USC and Alabama, but I would not be surprised in the committee went with St Mary's. And if Dayton wins the A10 I think those teams are competing for the last spot.


Two 1 seeds are set in stone (Ohio State and Kansas). I believe there are 3 legit contenders for the remaining 2 one seeds. To me Pitt and Notre Dame have the clear advantage over Duke in overall resume. A win today by Duke would tighten the gap, but I think the committee will settle on their 1 seeds before tip off of that game. In the end I think the one seeds will be Ohio State, Kansas, Notre Dame, and Pitt.



I have the Bearcats as a 6 seed which I have had them at all week. I think their resume compares favorably to the 5 seeds, however, and would not be surprised if they ended up there. I would be surprised if UC was any lower than a 7 seed.


And now the futile effort of projecting matchups and pods.

East

From Cleveland Ohio:

1. Ohio State
16. UTSA/Ark Little Rock

8. Georgetown
9. Old Dominion

From Denver Colorado:

4. BYU
13. Princeton

5. West Virginia
12. Memphis

From Washington DC:

6. Texas A&M
11. Michigan State

3. Kentucky
14. Bucknell

From Washington DC:

7. Temple
10. George Mason

2. UConn
15. St Peters

Southwest

From Tulsa Oklahoma:

1. Kansas
16. Arkansas State/Hampton

8. Marquette
9. Michigan

From Tuscon Arizona:

4. Wisconsin
13. Oakland

5. St Johns
12. Penn State/Alabama

From Tuscon Arizona:

6. Xavier
11. Clemson

3. San Diego State
14. Wofford

From Tampa Florida:

7. Washington
10. Colorado

2. Florida
15. Northern Colorado

Southeast

From Chicago Illinois:

1. Notre Dame
16. UNC Ashville

8. Tennessee
9. Missouri

From Denver Colorado:

4. Purdue
13. Belmont

5. Vanderbilt
12. Florida State/USC

From Chicago Illinois:

6. Kansas State
11. Virginia tech

3. Louisville
14. Indiana State

From Charlotte North Carolina:

7. UNLV
10. Villanova

2. UNC
15. Akron

West

From Cleveland Ohio:

1. Pitt
16. Boston U

8. Gonzaga
9. Butler

From Tampa Florida:

4. Syracuse
13. Morehead State

5. Arizona
12. Utah State

From Tulsa Oklahoma:

6. Cincinnati
11. Richmond

3. Texas
14. Long Island U

From Charlotte North Carolina:

7. UCLA
10. Illinois

2. Duke
15. UCSB


Friday, March 11, 2011

My Projected Tournament Field = March 12 12:17AM

One Seeds- Ohio State, Kansas, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

Two Seeds- North Carolina, Duke, Texas, BYU

Three Seeds- Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, Syracuse

Four Seeds- San Diego State, UCONN, Purdue, Wisconsin

Five Seeds- St Johns, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Arizona

Six Seeds- Kansas State, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Xavier

Seven Seeds- Temple, UCLA, UNLV, Georgetown

Eight Seeds- Tennessee, Gonzaga, Marquette, Michigan

Nine Seeds- Old Dominion, Missouri, Washington, Butler

Ten Seeds- Villanova, llinois,, George Mason, Colorado

Eleven Seeds- Clemson, Michigan State, Virginia Tech , Florida State

Twelve Seeds- USC/St Marys, Utah State, Richmond/Alabama, Memphis

Thirteen Seeds- Harvard, Oakland, Belmont, Morehead State

Fourteen Seeds- Indiana State, Kent State, Bucknell, Long Island U

Fifteen Seeds- Long Beach State, Wofford, St Peters, Northern Colorado

Sixteen Seeds- Boston U, UNC Ashville, Texas Southern/ Bethune Cookman, Mcneese State/Ark Little Rock


Last 4 In

USC

Richmond

Alabama

St Mary's


First 6 Out

Penn State

Georgia

Harvard

Boston College

UAB

Memphis



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Attempt at Projected Tournament Field

Here is my first draft at the NCAA field. I am not going to do matchups until my final draft is released on Selection Sunday. My seeds are left to right in order of how I have them ranked right now as well. (Automatic Bids in bold, predicted Automatic qualifiers in italics)


One Seeds- Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame

Two Seeds- North Carolina, Duke, Texas, BYU

Three Seeds- Florida, Syracuse, Louisville, Kentucky

Four Seeds- San Diego State, West Virginia, Purdue, Wisconsin

Five Seeds- Kansas State, St Johns, UCONN, Vanderbilt

Six Seeds- Cincinnati, UCLA, Arizona, Xavier

Seven Seeds- Temple, Georgetown, UNLV, Texas A&M

Eight Seeds- Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Gonzaga

Nine Seeds- Marquette, Old Dominion, Michigan, Washington

Ten Seeds- Villanova, Butler, Florida State, George Mason

Eleven Seeds- USC, Boston College, Colorado, Virginia Tech

Twelve Seeds- Richmond, Clemson/Michigan State, Utah State, Georgia/St Mary's

Thirteen Seeds- UAB, Harvard, Oakland, Belmont

Fourteen Seeds- Morehead State, Indiana State, Kent State, Bucknell

Fifteen Seeds- Long Island U, Wofford, St Peters, Northern Colorado

Sixteen Seeds- Boston U, UNC Ashville, Texas Southern/Arkansas Little Rock, Mcneese State/Bethune Cookman


Ohio State and Kansas both make good cases for the overall number one seed. I think at this point it is Ohio State's to lose. I think if Pitt were to win the Big East tournament and neither OSU or Kansas won their tournaments Pitt could still get the overall number 1. To me those are the only three contenders for that spot.


I have Duke slightly ahead of North Carolina, but because I had them 5 and 6 overall and North Carolina won the ACC outright I went ahead and made North Carolina the highest 2 seed. BYU could fall a couple seed lines if their play seems to really have diminished in the Mountain West tournament. As of right now their resume is too impressive to do that. BYU is 9-1 against the RPI top 50, and 5-0 against the RPI top 25. I still think if they look really impressive in the Mountain West tournament they have an outside shot at a number 1 seed.


Kentucky is the first team whom I seeded higher than I initially expected to. They struggled in true road games inside the conference, but their overall profile is really good. They are 12 in the RPI and have non-conference wins over Washington, Louisville (projected 3 seed by me) and Notre Dame (projected 1 seed by me). They were also in the very difficult SEC East and racked up some good wins there.


I have Purdue and Wisconsin both as 4 seeds, whomever makes the finals of the Big 10 (if either do) will have a good shot at a 3 and an outside shot at a two. Purdue for example has a nice split with Wisconsin and Ohio State, but outside of that their wins just do not hold up with the teams I have above them (including a WVU team that they lost to). Wisconsin essentially has the same resume though they are a few spots lower in the RPI and have 1 more loss.


On to the Bearcats. I have them as the to 6 seed at the moment. A loss to South Florida tonight could put them in the 7/8 range given how little respect they seem to have been given at times nationally. Short of that I think a 6 seed is very safe and they could very easily play their way up. Their overall resume compares very well to all of the 4 and 5 seeds (I debated putting them above Vanderbilt for the last 5 seed). If they were to make a run to the finals their resume would compare very well to all the 2 and 3 seeds. The Big East tournament will be a great opportunity for the Cats and really the only risk would be dropping a seed line with a loss to South Florida (and I really do not expect a team playing this well to do that).


I have UCONN above the Bearcats despite finishing behind them in the Big East on the strength of their great non-conference profile and their win in Cincinnati. UCONN's overall body of work is really quite impressive even if I do not necessarily think they are as good of a team as some of the squads they are seeded with.


I will definitely have an updated bracket with full projections (even the futile attempt to predict match-ups and regions) at the very least on the morning of Selection Sunday. And as conference tournaments move along I may have some other thoughts to add.

Monday, March 7, 2011

First Look at the 2011 Bubble

Every year at this time I break down the resume's of every team in the country and try to evaluate where I believe the committee will put them. First though lets look at two teams who have earned their way off the bubble by getting automatic bids tonight.

Old Dominion- The runner up in the CAA cemented their bid by winning the CAA championship tonight. They were probably in already finishing second in a very solid Colonial Conference, and getting road wins at Xavier and Clemson, and a home win over George Mason. It is probably not the greatest resume in the world, but it likely would be enough to get them in. Doesn't matter now. They will be dancing.

Gonzaga- Gonzaga capped of a great run to finish the year with another West Coast Conference tournament championship. They had a really good win over Xavier as well as wins over bubble teams St Mary's and Marquette this year. They also had a very low RPI and losses to RPI 159 Santa Clara and 122 San Francisco, to go with losses to bubble teams Illinois and Memphis. They would have probably been among the last teams in or first teams out...now they have the automatic birth.

As of today my last team in is St Mary's. The thing that stands out to me the most is how much we do not need 68 tournament teams... wow some of those resumes are weak. Many of the teams battling for the last few spots have great opportunities this week to put some key wins on their resume (and hell chances to add a bad loss as well). To be honest outside of the first 3 teams I listed (Tennessee, Illinois and Marquette) I do not think anyone would have a huge gripe if they missed the tournament as of today. I do think Michigan and Washington have built fairly decent profiles for teams at the bottom. I also think Southern Cal had an unexpectedly good body of work. They were much higher than I had them going in.

As I mention every year the most important thing is demonstrating an ability to beat NCAA tournament teams. I use the RPI for evaluation not because it is the best system, but because that is what the committee uses. I take bad losses into consideration a bit, but it is not nearly as important as great wins. Scheduling as always matters and teams that schedule ambitiously are much more prone to get the benefit of the doubt. As resume's get shakier, however, I tend to favor mid majors who did well in their conference over middle of the pack teams from power conferences (again resume's being relatively equal). I do this because the teams from major conferences get more chances on the whole to demonstrate their ability against top competition. This is why for example I have St Mary's and VCU slightly above Alabama. Their resume's are all fairly marginal, but Alabama has had more chances to demonstrate what they can do (and will get more in their conference tournament).

Anyways here is my ranking of the bubble at this time. I have 26 teams competing for what will likely be 16-18 spots (depending on if there are upsets in a couple conference tournaments). St Mary's as my last team in today assume there are 18 spots.

Tennessee- They are going to the NCAA tournament. Thirteen losses and only going 8-8 in the SEC makes one skeptical, but their wins are just much stronger than any one else on the bubble they would be competing with. Tennessee boasts top 50 RPI wins over Missouri State, Villanova, Pitt (potential 1 seed), Memphis, Georgia and Vanderbilt (twice). Overall they are 7-6 against the RPI top 50. Despite some puzzling losses to Charlotte, College of Charleston and Arkansas their body of work should be good enough.


Illinois- The Illini got to 9-9 in the Big Ten and that should be enough to get them into the tournament. Wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga give them two nice non-conference scalps to go along with their wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan in the conference. Among the Big Ten bubble teams (and there are many) Illinois certainly has the most complete resume.


Marquette- Marquette played an ambitious schedule and did not close out any of those games in the non-conference portion losing to Duke, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt as well as to bubble team Gonzaga. Still Marquette has more quality wins than any other team on the bubble having beaten Notre Dame, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Uconn (the Uconn game taking place on the road). Marquette is probably in good shape despite their low RPI but a loss to Providence in the first round of the Big East tournament might not sit well with the committee. Get that win and I think Marquette will likely be in. If they get two wins they'll be a lock.


Michigan- Throwing out Illinois who I think should be in, of the Big Ten bubble teams I have Michigan first in the pecking order on the strength of their season sweeps of Michigan State and Penn State. They have a nice win over Harvard and a non-conference win over bubble team Clemson. A win over Illinois to start the Big Ten tournament would go a long way towards locking up a spot, because despite having 3 top 50 RPI wins and 3 other wins against bubble teams it is possible none of those wins will have come against teams that make the NCAA tournament.


Washington- This is a team who nearly everyone agrees is probably better than their tournament profile indicates. Washington has a sweep of UCLA and a win over Arizona to give them a 3-1 record against the top teams in the PAC Ten. If they can manage to get to the PAC Ten tournament finals I am betting it is very likely they will end up in the NCAA tournament. They are 3-4 against the RPI top 50, though one of their losses is to fellow bubble team Michigan State. They also have two puzzling losses...one to Stanford (RPI 139) and one to Oregon State (RPI 228).


Florida State- The consensus seems to be that Florida State is in and I am not quite sure why (other than someone has to fill those bottom spots). Florida State is 2-5 against the RPI top 50 (their wins are against Duke and Boston College). I guess the 11-5 ACC record is impressive until we consider that 5 of those wins came against the three worst teams in the conference (RPI 238 Wake Forest twice, RPI 160 Georgia Tech, and RPI 188 NC State twice). They split with bubble team Clemson, beat bubble team Boston College and lost to bubble team Virginia Tech. They also have just a dreadful loss to RPI 255 Auburn. They may be a tournament team, but wow are they an underwhelming one.


George Mason- They dominated the CAA this season including a win over RPI 24 Old Dominion and scored a top 35 RPI win by beating Harvard. That is really all there is to their resume. In all honesty George Mason has to hope that the committee puts some weight to winning the CAA regular season title by 2 games. That separation from Old Dominion will be nice as both seem to be on the bubble and if Old Dominion gets in it would be hard not to take George Mason as well.



USC- Given the weak state of the bubble I think a nice case can be made for USC. They have top 25 RPI wins over Texas and Arizona as well as two other top 50 wins against UCLA and Tennessee. That's a solid group of wins. They have a few bad losses to Oregon State (RPI 232), Rider (RPI 104) and Bradley (RPI 237) that are holding them down somewhat. A run to the finals of the PAC Ten tournament would put USC in great shape as that would include another win over Arizona.


Boston College- Wow is the ACC bubble weak. Boston College's NCAA hopes at this point seem to cling to their season sweep of fellow bubble team Virginia Tech and a top 50 win over Texas A&M early in the season. Boston College is in the RPI top 50, but I am not quite sure how as that win over Texas A&M is their only top 50 win. I'm interested to see how the committee handles the very weak profiles from the ACC teams.


Colorado- It is certainly possible Colorado has too many bad losses on their resume to warrant a bid, but they do have wins that exceed many of the other bubble teams. Colorado swept Kansas State and beat Texas. They managed a split with Missouri. They have a loss to another fellow bubble team in Georgia. Will one more win over Kansas State earn them a bid? It is possible.


Virginia Tech- After beating Duke the Hokies looked to be in pretty good shape... then they promptly did the Hokie thing and lost back to back games to bubble teams Boston College and Clemson. Now the Hokies have that great win over Duke, a nice win over bubble team Florida State, and an alright win over borderline bubble team Penn State. They also were swept by fellow ACC bubble team Boston College and lost in their only meeting with Clemson. Troubling losses to RPI 135 Virginia (twice) and RPI 162 Georgia Tech make the Hokie's resume look even more baffling. Yeah the win at home over Duke is nice, but other than that there is not much there that says this is an NCAA tournament team.


Richmond- I look at Richmond's resume and it reminds me a lot of Florida State and Virginia Tech. They have one really strong victory that makes them look like a tournament team, in their case Purdue, and then not much else. Richmond is only 2-3 against the RPI top 50 (their other win was against VCU) having lost their regular season chances against Xavier and Temple. If Richmond wants to lock up an at large bid they'll need to beat Temple in the A10 semis (beating Xavier and they'd win the Automatic).


Clemson- The marquee win for Clemson this year was an 18 point home win over Florida State (they lost to Florida State on the road). Clemson also victories over fellow ACC bubble teams Virginia Tech and Boston College. Clemson has 3 bad losses to South Carolina, NC State and Virginia. They also lost to fellow bubble team Michigan. They will need to beat Boston College in the ACC tournament to be in decent shape for a bid and would likely lock up a bid if they could upset conference champion North Carolina to reach the semis. I do think there is a really good chance that Clemson v Boston College could be an NCAA play in game.


Butler- The defending National Championship runners up have seemingly righted the ship in the Horizon league. Butler finished the season winning their last 8 games and making an at large bid a sudden possibility (though a long shot) if they somehow get upset in their conference tournament. Butler is 3-3 vs. the RPI top 50 with a season sweep of Cleveland State and a win over Florida State to their credit (RPI top 50 losses are Xavier, Louisville, and Duke). Their loss to Youngstown State and getting swept by Milwaukee really is holding them back.


Michigan State- The Spartans have 13 losses and have struggled much of the year, but they are right on the edge of the NCAA bubble. They have 4 RPI top 50 wins (Washington, Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin) to go with 12 RPI top 50 losses. Among those losses are a sweep to fellow bubble team Michigan who they have to be behind in the pecking order at this point. The committee has often rewarded ambitious scheduling and 16 games against the RPI top 50 is a crazy amount, but Michigan State's resume hardly looks like that of a tournament team.


Georgia- The Bulldogs are 3-9 against the RPI top 50 earning wins over Tennessee, UAB and Kentucky. That does not scream NCAA tournament team. To their credit they really have not suffered a bad loss as 9 of their 10 losses are to RPI top 50 teams and their only other loss was to SEC west champion Alabama. If Georgia could pick up one or two more scalps in the SEC tournament their resume would begin to look pretty decent a quick loss and they could be on the outside looking in.


Utah State- Every year their domination of the Big west puts Utah State on the brink of the NCAA tournament, but their refusal to schedule ambitiously always makes them a potentially controversial at large. Utah State has had an RPI in the 20s for a while now, their best win this year, however is against RPI 48 St Mary's, their next best win is RPI 95 Long Beach State... that is it for top 100 RPI wins. They have a close loss to BYU, they got solidly beat by Georgetown and they have a bad loss to RPI 129 Nevada. Basically they've done almost nothing to suggest they are at large worthy over the course of the season and very little to suggest they are not. With 68 teams getting in maybe that will be enough...hopefully they'll just win their conference tournament and save us the headache.


St Mary's- They earned a share of the very good West Coast Conference regular season title and made the finals of the WCC tournament. On top of that they have a great win over St Johns and a solid win over NCAA tournament bubble Gonzaga. They also gave BYU all they could handle in Provo (for what that is worth). Their loss to Utah State on bracket buster Saturday is looming very large after their loss to Gonzaga in the WCC finals.


Virginia Commonwealth- Their bid for an automatic birth fell short and ten losses is probably too many for a CAA team, but VCU does have some nice meat to their resume. VCU has 3 top 50 RPI wins over UCLA, George Mason and Old Dominion, all of which could very well be in the tournament. Losses to Georgia State and Northeastern (220 and 174 in the RPI respectively) are probably going to go a long way towards keeping them out.


Alabama- Alabama might end up being the most debated team on this years bubble. One one hand they were the SEC West Champs by 3 whole games. On the other hand the SEC West is a train wreck. One one hand they have conference wins over Kentucky, Tennessee (road) and fellow bubble team Georgia, on the other hand they really have not beaten ANYONE else. They have losses to Iowa (RPI 169), St Peters, Seton Hall, Providence (RPI 146), and Arkansas (RPI 120). They have an RPI lower than any team that has ever been chosen for the NCAA tournament. I think they'll definitely need to beat Georgia (assuming Georgia beats Auburn) and I think there is a chance they'll have to beat Kentucky in the SEC semis as well if Bama wants a bid.


Penn State- I'm feeling generous so I'll talk Penn State. They do have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois so that is the good. The bad is the losses. They have 13 of them. A few of them to the likes of Maine, Ole Miss and Maryland. They also lost return games to Michigan State and Illinois as well as games to bubble teams Michigan and Virginia Tech. Short of a run to the Big Ten championship I think Penn State is going to miss.


UAB- UAB sits at 29 in the RPI, but unless the committee values wins over Marshall and Southern Miss despite being the outright CUSA champions UAB will likely have to win the tournament title to earn a bid.


Cal- If we have USC maybe we should put Cal. Frankly I think Cal is a long shot, but possibly a run to the finals will do it for them. Cal has a nice non-conference win over Temple. Their two biggest wins in the PAC Ten are UCLA and @USC. They absolutely must beat Cal and then Arizona in the Pac Ten tournament and even then I think that might not be enough.

Harvard- If people are going to talk about UAB at all then we might as well go over Harvard's resume. They have a top 50 win over Boston College and two solid wins over Princeton and Colorado respectively. They are 1-3 against RPI top 50 and 2-1 against RPI 50-100. They will likely play Princeton in a one game playoff for a chance to go to the NCAA tournament, I doubt they will earn an at large with a loss.


Memphis- Will the committee care about a sweep of CUSA champ and RPI 29, UAB? Are wins over RPI 73 Miami(Fl), RPI 62 Gonzaga, RPI 53 Southern Miss and RPI 50 Marshall going to carry any weight. It looks to me like Memphis is sitting in pretty poor shape, especially with the couple of bad losses they had done the stretch against Rice (RPI 183) and East Carolina (RPI 110). I wish I did not even have to bring them up, but with 68 teams who knows.


Missouri State- The Missouri Valley conference has been a really good league in the past, but this year it is not strong enough to carry Missouri State to the tournament on the strength of their conference title alone. Missouri State did not do anything outside of the league to warrant a bid.


I'll have some bracket projections ready later this week as well as a breakdown of UC's resume and a few other resume's of teams at the top I found interesting. Until then keep on enjoying championship week.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

March Madness Back in Cincinnati

Senior Day is always special. Fans get invested in the success of players that have represented their school sometimes for as long as 5 years. There is simply a different feel when you enter the arena on senior day. On Saturday, Bearcat fans were treated to a fantastic farewell to six seniors who have given much to the University of Cincinnati basketball program. The Bearcats capped off a 5-1 finish by absolutely blasting a very good Georgetown team.


This was the best senior night I have attended since Steve Logan went coast to coast to tie Memphis and then clinch a conference title in OT in 2002. This was the most electric the Shoe has felt since that day. Fans were loud, they were on their feet and they were invested. It took time to get there. It took having a team that has played incredible basketball down the stretch and had one hell of a season, but it is hard not to feel the program is well on its way back after a day like Saturday.


The game itself was a fabulous display of everything that has made this Bearcat team so good down the stretch. This Bearcat team can beat anyone in the country when they get top flight play from Wright and Gates. When they have won that has almost universally been the case. Wright played another very solid game at point guard. The Bearcats looked crisp in their offense getting very good looks throughout the night and getting stuff going towards the basket. I felt that early in conference play the Bearcats settled to often for shots that other teams wanted them to take. They launched quick semi-contested 3 pointers and did not get anything going towards the basket. They simply did not make defenses work.


Credit Cronin and the coaching staff, because this began to change drastically starting with the Pittsburgh game. From that point on I really feel this team's offensive discipline has gone up considerably. I know the Bearcats lost at Pitt and I know it was not exactly close most the game, but I remember watching the game and being very pleased with the way the Bearcats were working the ball and making an effort to score going towards the basket. Since that day it seems they are getting better and better in their execution. They do not settle for quick semi-contested jumpers. They work the ball and get the defense moving. This has led to better looks, it has led to opportunities for offensive rebounds and it has often lead to fouls on the other team.


To me the other major factor in this run of exceptional play has been the absolute force Yancy Gates has become, particularly on the defensive end. Gates absolutely changes the game inside and he has done it largely without fouling. He alters shot after shot and often comes up with very big, timely blocks. He has owned every big man he has been asked to guard in this great stretch run. On offense he has been solid. He has given UC an inside scoring threat, he has worked hard on the offensive glass to get put backs and to me even more to his credit he seems to always make the right decision when it comes to passing out of the low post. Gates gets doubled team often, but he has a feel for when to get rid of the ball and find the open man. This ability to throw it down low and either score or draw defenders and pass out has opened the offense up even more. I have been thrilled watching Gates' play down the stretch.


With Wright and Gates playing so well and giving the Bearcats the dominant players they need at two key positions the biggest strength the Bearcats possess has really been allowed to shine...their depth. What makes UC so difficult to play is they can play multiple styles and can come after you with so many different players. During this run there have been games where Thomas hardly plays at all and games where Thomas has been absolutely essential. We have seen moments of greatness from Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick. Because they go so deep we get to see the Bearcats really extend the pressure on teams. One of my favorite things to watch is Wilks at the front of the press. It almost seems like he is freelancing at times just waiting for the perfect time to run over and give the double team. We have seen the Bearcats throw in some zone and seen them in their in your face man to man. We have seen them play big against Marquette or go smaller in the first Georgetown game. At this point in the year the Bearcat roster is so versatile and their ability to sub in and out allows them to play incredibly hard at all times and just wear people down. That has been an absolutely huge advantage.


In this sense the Bearcats could be a perfect team for Big East tournament play. They have the horses to really get after it and make teams work. Wednesday night whether it is Villanova or South Florida the Bearcats I strongly believe UC's depth could really wear them down particularly because they'll be playing for a second consecutive night. Villanova worried me a bit only because they have the type of in your face ball pressure that at times has given Wright problems and the Bearcats need Wright to play well to be at their best. That said I think the Bearcats are one of the teams that could go to NYC and win the Big East tournament. Hell, if they win a couple of games in NYC their seed line will really begin to move.


My firm belief is that the Bearcats are going to be a 6 seed at worst in the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats have a set of wins that puts them more in line with the 1,2, and 3 seeds than most of the 6 or 7 seeds. Also, 7 losses is not many especially when you consider that all of them are losses to top 35 RPI teams. The Bearcats are going to be penalized for their non-conference SOS and that is the only reason we are not talking about them as a 4 or 5 seed right now, BUT a couple more wins over these NCAA tournament teams and now the numbers will start to get gaudy. If the Bearcats can get two wins in the conference tournament I firmly believe they will be a 3 or a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. At that point they would have 7 RPI top 50 wins (6 would be top 25) and then a road win at NCAA bubble Marquette. You are not going to find 5 teams in the country that can say that. If the Bearcats make the finals I am willing to bet they'd be a 3 seed and if they could somehow win the entire thing in New York I do not think a 2 seed is out of the question. If the Bearcats make the finals of the Big East tournament there is a good chance they'd finish the year with more top 25 RPI wins than any team in the country. That combined with only 7 (or 8 if they lost in finals) losses would be incredibly hard for the committee to ignore.


So that is part of the fun we can have this week. I think they have earned a 6 seed or better already...the or better part is looking very exciting, because I think 2 seed is still in play (would take an obviously incredible run). I'll go over this in more detail later this week as I do my annual ranking of the tournament bubble and start putting out some bracket projections. Until then... Go Bearcats!